Player Types Don’t Play Well With Learning

When we co-opt terms from another field, we risk misrepresenting or misapplying them. It is better to deconstruct what is being done in other fields and consider how core principles may creatively enhance learning experiences.

Industry analysts predict that by 2023 (just a few short years from now), the game-based learning industry will be $17 billion. If you’re in the learning and development (L&D) held, now might be a good time to look at game-based learning, gamihcation, and serious games.

But as this industry grows, certain phrases and concepts are thrown around that, if you weren’t a game designer in the 1990s, you may not know their origins or true meaning.

For instance, you probably already have heard about “player types.” You may have seen a quadrant that looks like a DiSC personality-style assessment diagram with four types of players. Since it looks familiar, we often think of player types in terms of personality styles.

In fact, the theory of player types has a specific origin and application. As professionals we need to understand both if we are to sound credible when we use the term, “player types.”

Expert game designer Richard Bartle created the player type theory. It predicts why and how (maybe even for how long) people will play Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMOs for short). He identifies four types of MMO players:

  1. Achievers want to reach a goal and will work quickly to achieve it.
  2. Explorers want to explore the virtual world, turning over every rock and looking for every Easter egg.
  3. Socializers love MMOs because this is where people like them are hanging out, and these days, they can talk to and trash talk fellow players.
  4. Killers love, well, killing. Killers will, when ready to level up, turn back and make sure they’ve shot, killed, destroyed every zombie, bad guy, and Bowser.

Limited Application to Training

As the L&D community has begun implementing gamification and game-based learning, people often reference Bartle’s player types without realizing their true origin and application. In fact, Bartle is critical of the use of player types in gamification. In his words, “Player types theory has a ‘short shelflife’ in gamification.”

When you create gamified learning experiences periences or serious games for learning, it’s important to know where the whole concept of player types comes from— ultimately, it is describing how people interact within a specific context that is quite different from learning programs. For instance, people choose to play MMOs. But our learners often are compelled to attend our training programs.

For instance, people choose to play MMOs. But our learners often are compelled to attend our training programs. Maybe how they play reflects what they will find as “fun” in our gamified programs, but beyond that, the theory has limited application to training. There may be some interesting insights you can glean from the game design world, but in the words of Bartle, think of these insights as analogies.

When we co-opt terms from another field, we risk misrepresenting or misapplying them. It is better to deconstruct what is being done in other fields and consider how core principles may creatively enhance learning experiences. Game designers know games; we know learning. What can we learn from them that will enhance the learning experiences we create?

Monica Cornetti, CEO, and Jonathan Peters, Ph.D., chief motivation officer, at Sententia Gamification, believe it’s time for FUN to be taken seriously in adult learning programs. Based in Austin, TX, Sententia Gamification is a trusted developer of learning solutions, and offers gamification certifications, train-the-trainer courses, custom development, and more.

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